Being in a Relationship with Someone with a Mental Illness

Living and coping with a mental illness is one thing – being in a relationship with someone who has a mental illness is another.

As someone who is currently in a long-term relationship, it’s incredibly crucial for the person I am with to understand that I have occasional bouts of depression and anxiety. He doesn’t necessarily have to know how I feel, but it’s important that he empathizes with me and comforts me during my tough moments.

If you are in a relationship with a significant other who has a mental illness – whether it be bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, PTSD, ADHD, etc. – here are several factors to take into consideration when helping your boyfriend or girlfriend cope with his/her mental health:

  1. Let your partner feel sad.
    Before my current relationship, my ex-boyfriend told me that it isn’t okay to cry and advised me to avoid feeling sad as much as possible.
    Although I thought this would help, it made my mental health more difficult to cope with. Whenever I was stressed or anxious and wanted to cry my emotions out, I would keep my feelings to myself, which was extremely detrimental to my health.
    With my current boyfriend, I can feel sad whenever I want to feel sad and cry whenever my emotional bucket fills up. This is especially liberating whenever I have major panic attacks or whenever I feel stressed out.
    Allow your partner to feel broadly. Let them celebrate their successes with elation and lament their lows with tears. Acknowledge their feelings – good and bad – and comfort them when necessary.
  2. Listen to your significant other.
    Another equally significant factor when dating someone with a mental illness is to listen to your partner whenever he/she feels upset.
    Listening to your significant other vent out his/her feelings is a great way to not only bond together as a couple, but to relieve your partner from his/her stresses.
    Be sure to let him/her speak and only interject or speak when it’s extremely important.
  3. Do your research.
    I cannot stress this one enough. If you have personally never struggled with a mental illness, it may be in your best interest to do some research on the mental illness that your significant other has, as well as the symptoms he/she may experience. This way, you will know why your partner reacts the way he/she does during an uncomfortable or emotional situation and better empathize with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
  4. If your significant other likes to be comforted during an episode, comfort him/her. If not, give your partner some space.
    Ask your partner what he/she wants you to do during an episode. If your significant other prefers to have space, then distance yourself for a few minutes (or for as long as he/she needs). Otherwise, be sure to comfort your partner and be patient.
    If your partner suffers from severe panic attacks, know that they may last from 5-25 minutes. Wait for as long as your significant other needs and be there for your partner afterward.
  5. Know that having a mental illness is a lifelong struggle for many people (including your partner).
    Remember that your boyfriend/girlfriend’s mental health may be a lifelong struggle. It’s important to have patience with your loved one, especially if you’re in it for the long run. Although you may not struggle with the same mental condition (or any mental condition at all), it is still imperative to be empathetic and to encourage your partner to stay strong.
  6. Give advice with caution.
    If your significant other asks you for advice on how to cope with his/her mental illness or merely wishes for some words of comfort, choose your words carefully.
    Some people may not like hearing “It will be OK” and others may not want to hear “You will be fine.” However, some may prefer to be comforted with those words.
    However your partner likes to be comforted, be cautious with your word choice. Never sound ignorant or tell your partner to “just get over it.” Always be respectful and loving, never condescending or impatient.

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